Saturday, July 21, 2012

Lower Berley Lake


Stupid snow!
That is the sound of the air being let out of this "lakepalooza" hiking balloon. Originally, the plan was to hike the Oregon Skyline Trail and visit 5 lakes before camping at the sixth lake: Jorn Lake. However, snow on the ground insured that only one lake on the itinerary would be visited.

Look Ma, no trees!
Beginning at Santiam Pass, the first two miles of the Pacific Crest Trail climbed gently through the burn zone of 2003's B&B Fire. Ghostly white snags were all that remained of the forest but the increased sunlight gave rise to a vigorous green undergrowth comprised of bear grass, bracken fern, and wildflowers of every color.

The openness of the forest combined with a gentle breeze made for a mosquitoless hike at first and the bottle of insect repellent was stored away in my pack. The lack of trees also helped the views, particularly to Mount Washington with North and Middle Sister peeking from behind.

Hmm, I wonder where mosquitoes come from
At a low saddle crowned by a rocky pile, I bid adieu to the Pacific Crest Trail and descended gently into the Lost Creek canyon. Leaving the dead forest, I entered the live forest and the high-pitched whine of millions of mosquito wings proclaimed the one-sided joy of mosquito and hiker reunion. A frantic applique of repellent was quickly slathered on in panic.

Lower Berley Lake on the first visit
At a rock cairn at a faint use trail, I dropped my pack and headed to Lower Berley Lake. Water dogs splashed in the shallows, startled by my arrival. The tip of Three Fingered Jack was just visible from the lake. After snapping a few pictures, I hoisted my pack and continued on the Santiam Lake Trail, unaware at the time that Lower Berley Lake would wind up being the only lake successfully visited on this hike.

A long and dusty trail
The next mile or so was through a dry and dusty plain comprised of volcanic ash.  The soft sand is so much fun to hike through with a fully loaded pack, and yes I am being sarcastic. Cresting at a wooded saddle at 5400 feet of elevation, the trail disappeared under a large snowdrift.

Stupid snow...redux

For the next mile or so, the going was fairly tedious as a search for trail tread ensued after each snowdrift crossing. Descending rapidly, the snow got deeper and deeper in indirect proportion to the loss of elevation. The trail finally disappeared for good just after passing a small unnamed lake. Camping at the lake was briefly considered but rejected due to the muddiness of the surrounding earth that was not covered by snow.

Lower Berley Lake on the second visit

So back up through slushy snow, so much fun with a fully loaded pack and there's some more sarcasm for you. Retracing my steps through the dry and dusty plain, I set up camp on a dusty bench above Lower Berley Lake, startling two ducks in the process. To be fair and balanced, a galloping horse coming up the trail startled me, balancing out the fear factor, especially since the horse was equally startled. Oh, the rider was startled because the horse was startled because I was startled and let us not forget the ducks were startled too.  

A fingernail of Three Fingered Jack

After watching the last light of the day on the tip of Three Fingered Jack, I slept in the open, suitably awestruck by the Milky Way glowing above this very small and insignificant (in the larger scheme of things) hiker. In hindsight, sleeping in the open was not the greatest idea because my sleeping bag became quite soggy due to the dew.

No mosquitoes!

After all the backtracking done the day before, it was a short three miles back to the trailhead. And best of all, most of the three miles were done without the benefit of mosquitoes.

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